Ocean acidification is changing the marine environment, with potentially serious consequences for many organisms. Much of our understanding of ocean acidification effects comes from laboratory experiments, which demonstrate physiological responses over relatively short timescales. Observational studies and, more recently, experimental studies in natural systems suggest that ocean acidification will alter the structure of seaweed communities. Here, we provide a mechanistic understanding of altered competitive dynamics among a group of seaweeds, the crustose coralline algae (CCA). We compare CCA from historical experiments (1981–1997) with specimens from recent, identical experiments (2012) to describe morphological changes over this time period, which coincides with acidification of seawater in the Northeastern Pacific. Traditionally thick species decreased in thickness by a factor of 2.0–2.3, but did not experience a change in internal skeletal metrics. In contrast, traditionally thin species remained approximately the same thickness but reduced their total carbonate tissue by making thinner inter-filament cell walls. These changes represent alternative mechanisms for the reduction of calcium carbonate production in CCA and suggest energetic trade-offs related to the cost of building and maintaining a calcium carbonate skeleton as pH declines. Our classification of stress response by morphological type may be generalizable to CCA at other sites, as well as to other calcifying organisms with species-specific differences in morphological types.